The Winged Victory of Samothrace has appeared in many THATLous, from Angels + Wings to of course Beauty + the Beast(iary). The write up attached to her (below in italics) generally has some sneaky bonus question inserted. As she’s an Icon of the Louvre, her photo is on the map — easy to find. So to make her worth more than a few piddling 10 points some of the bonus questions in the treasure hunt ask the hunters to pose in their photos with their hands as she once had them, cupping her lips as she calls out Victory! With her hand on display near her frame (some of her fingers were found in a drawer at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna), it would take the hunters a bit of time to actually read the Louvre’s information sheets about her in order to win these craftily embedded bonus points (Or maybe they’ve read this very post :-0).
The Winged Goddess of Victory / Nike of Samothrace (Nike = Victory in Greek) stands proudly on the prow of a ship, soaring above the Daru Stairwell. She is one of those Hellenistic treasures we all have to study in Art History 101, a piece as noteworthy to the Louvre as the Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo. She was found in Samothrace (N. Aegean) where a sanctuary was consecrated to the Cabeiri (gods of fertility) whose help was invoked to protect seafarers and to grant victory in war. Honouring these gods, they offered this nearly nude Nike made of Parian Marble in a religious act. It has also been suggested that she was dedicated to Rhodes, in commemoration of a specific naval victory. No one is certain of her provenance, however, the partial inscription of the word Rhodes implies the whereabouts of whatever battle she was presiding over.
That said the Archeological Museum of Samothrace contests this Rhodian provenance, maintaining to this day that she was erected by the Macedonian general Demetrius I (aka Poliorcetes) after his naval victory at Cyprus between 295-289 BC. Samothrace was an important sanctuary for Macedonian kings, moreover her spiral figure also figured on contemporary Macedonian coins.
Wherever this beauty is from, she was discovered dislodged by the French Counsul (and amateur archaeologist) Charles Champoiseau (I suspect that all British, French and German 19th century Consuls, Consul Generals and Diplomats were required to be ‘amateur archaeologist’ — on the prowl in foreign lands to see just what they could ravage their visiting countries of. Diplomacy was a side business they fit in when they happened to be in town for a shower). M Chamoiseau swiftly deposited both her and the prow on which she stands to the halls of the Louvre in 1863.
By 1884 she was holding sway over the grand Daru Staircase and has been there ever since…. Sauf! During WWII. She was removed on 2 September 1939 — to be sheltered in the safety of Château de Valençay (along with other Louvre Icons, Michelangelo’s Dying Slaves and the Venus de Milo), in case Paris saw war. Every time I mount these stairs among the throngs of tourists I think of these evacuating railway tracks (as seen below) and how incredibly lucky the treasures of the Louvre and Paris were not to have fallen victim to the war — but also how horribly ironic is was that Nike was to be the first in battle against the Titans, protecting Zeus, and yet here she was hiding in a Château for the duration of the war. A subject I probably shouldn’t get into.
The 7th century BC Greek poet, Hesiod has it that Nike was the daughter of Styx (Hatred) and Pallas (God of War Craft); Part of a powerful clan, Nike was sister to Zelos (Rivalry), and Kratos (Strength) and Bia (Force). When Zeus was preparing to battle the Titans, Styx and her brood pledged their allegiance to him. Zeus made Nike his charioteer and proclaimed that the four children should remain by his side always (who’d be stupid enough to turn down the children of Hatred, when it comes to fighting a war?). Though Nike was a popular theme for Greek sculpture, her story doesn’t really continue past Zeus’s battle against the Titans.
As for her wonderfully sexy form, with typical Hellenistic material no thicker than cling-wrap, I recommend this page from the Met’s website for a context and timeline on the Hellenistic age. As per the first photo’s caption, she was meant to be viewed from the right, so the detail of her left side is relatively course.
The proper pronunciation of Nike is Nee-Kay — Just Say It!
(Photo credited to Nicolas de Boyer, published in 1995 by Lynn H. Nichols The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Teasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Vintage Books)
When things are in bold, usually that’s a hint that they refer to bonus questions… Nike would be a fine candidate for the Beauty + Beast(iary) hunt or perhaps an Angels + Wings hunt, no?